Brazil curbs soy farming deforestation in Amazon

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil all but stopped growth of soy farming in newly deforested parts of its Amazon rainforest during the 2016-2017 crop year after efforts to halt purchases of beans from such areas, official data showed on Wednesday.

Soy farming has been a driver of Amazon deforestation, marking the total destruction of jungle areas after activities such as logging and ranching clear larger trees and undergrowth.

Brazil is the world’s largest soy exporter, with 13 percent of the planted area in the Amazon, and lowering the crop’s impact on the forest has been seen as vital in the fight against climate change.

Soy farming in 2016-2017 grew to account for roughly 474 square kilometers of jungle deforested since 2008 - an area larger than New Orleans - up from 372 square kilometers the same period a year ago, according to the Environment Ministry.

The 2016-2017 level was down from an average 6,847 square kilometers in the 6 years to the beginning of the moratorium in 2008. The 2016-2017 level represented 1.5 percent of overall Amazon deforestation for the period.

“It’s peanuts,” Paulo Adario, senior strategist for forests for environmental group Greenpeace, said of the soy growth compared with overall Amazon deforestation.

“The moratorium shows it is possible to produce without deforestation.”

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and soaks up vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

The Environment Ministry announced in October that overall Amazon deforestation fell 16 percent for the year to July 2017, the first drop in three years, to 6,624 square kilometers.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Andrew Hay